Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In the realms of identity inquiry there seem to be two distinct schools. One sees morality as an integral and essential part of the individual, thus producing the idea that one can disover the individual through the morality (Kant did something like this with his defining a person as rational). Frankfurt sees this as in some manner defeating the ability to find the individual, since rationality is common and identical to all.

There is then a middle road that defines the individual not in terms of their essential ethic, nor frior to their essential ethic, but in terms of how they produce their ethic. In effect I am talking about a form of rationalism that is sensitive to the individuals concerns (for instance if two people were drowning and one was a dear friend and the other a perfect stranger it would seem rational to give preference to saving the stranger). This is a rather widely discussed idea, but a thorough-going discussion of it I have not found. If anyone can enlighten me further on the specifics, or has thoughts, or knows of places where it is discussed in detail I am most intereted.

The specific basis of my interest is that I believe that through this idea it can be argued, contrary to variouse philosophers, that Meursault, of Camus' "the Outsider" is a fully functioning person.

8 comments:

Pete said...

Just to clarify this a little Ming:

I take it that your saying that one of the disticnt schools of identity inquiry advocates this idea that an individual can be discovered by examining thier morality (this, you say, was Kant's approach)

The second of the distinct schools of identity enquiry is Frankfurt's? Is this correct? And he holds that examining morality (and thus, in Kant's case, thier rationality as well) is pointless since everyone has a rational and thus moral dimension. Hence we would not be able to distinguish one person from the next. Is this what your saying here?

And finally are you saying that there is a middle road between these two? That examines not just what a subject's morality is but also how thier morality came to be. Is this what your getting at?

Btw are you also saying that it is more rational to save a drowning stranger rather than a drowning friend? Or is this just a typo?

michael said...

On Kant yes
on Frankfurt pointless because everybody has exactly the same morality, hence this view of people is unable to distinguish one from another.

The middle road is not so much a combination of the two as as a higher order idea - the way in which, rather than just what, morals are created.

this way each persons morality is able to be distinct while the way in which it was produced is the same. This allows for subjective rationality. hopefully that has clarified.
yes the last was a typo.

Pete said...

Ok, but my understanding of Kant (as it currently stands) was not that we all possess the same morality, but something more like that we all would possess the same morality if we all were to develop to our full rational and hence moral potential. Hence we would still be able to distinguish between different people since everyone would be at different stages of development. This then would start to sound a little more like the middle path that you are describing since it would not just be the current moral standards that need to be taken into account but thier moral development (i.e. the way in which thier morals are created) would also play a part in the ethical theorist's concerns.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting Kant here (highly possible given my extreme prejudice in favour of process metaphysics) but I'd be keen to hear if Frankfurt has any response to this type of thang...

MH said...

Does Kant even go so far as claiming that all fully rational individuals would ‘possess the same morality’? I – and I’m no Kantian – take him as stoping at the claim that they would all agree on the same normative principles.

Another point – just to clarify – Ming, are you trying to articulate a position where an individual’s identity is the sum of their ethic and the historical development of that ethic? Or are you trying to articulate a position where an individual’s identity is the sum of their ethical decisions?

nyrhtak said...

i'm having difficulty with one of the first points in michaels post that all people are rational. Thankfully ming you are not of the female gender and in my sexest gender dividing way will point out that women are surely in general more emotional and less rational.
in a more sensical manner aren't all people more emotional creatures. what if i a buy a packet of spaggetti from the shops and chose the packet that is black over the yellow packaged product, because yellow is the most hated colour of a now deceased friend. sure the pasta in the black packet was 5 cents cheaper but it was harder to reach. my seemingly rational choice of the 5 cent cheaper pasta is spurred by an emotional reason.
being an emotional being myself i'm more inclind to believe that all people are emotional beings with splashes of rationallity thrown in for good measure

michael said...

My understanding of how Kant has been understood is that a person is a person only in, and so far as he has developed, his rational/moral 'portion'. The rest is not person but merely human. Thus it is easy to tell humans apart but not people.
I think that Kantian morals are also being taken to be categorical imperatives rather than the applications of them, thus the moral element is identical for all, effectively transcendental, but it is rare that two people come up against exactly identical situations, so rare that exactly the same application is used twice. This does not mean that one can be identified in terms of which applications of the categorical imperative he has used because that is only a history of his situation in the world rather than an analysis of his identity.

So what I am looking for is a manner in which something like the categorical imperative (though one step more primitive in that it is the basis for the categorical imperative/morals) can give two different applications for exactly the same situation depending on the person involved.

This would produce a system that had some kind of all embracing underlying idea, but yet one that resulted in differing normative principles for differing people.

In terms of the position I am trying to articulate, it is neither an historical picture nor a position where an individual’s identity is the sum of their ethical decisions, but rather where the identity of a 'person in the present' produces the sum of their ethical commands, but does so in a manner such that (ignoring problems of incalculability) if one knew the total of that person - cares/loves/attachments/everything relevant in 'the present moment' - one could derive also their morality for that 'present moment'. Since I am using a modernist perspective of time, in that rather than us moving through time time flows through the present, development and history of the individual are only relevant in so far as they are part of the person's present.

This comes very close to but is distinct from saying that the person has no real moral code but only does what he wishes; it is a view that allows for second-order volition (Frankfurt's minimal requirement for moral capability and action). So Frankfurt and I differ from Kant in that we don't divide the individual into his person and is human elements, but rather see him as entirely a person or entirely not a person (while Frankfurt's concept of a person involves a deep-seated duality it is not here). Thus the need to be able to distinguish between people in the complete sense of the word, but also the need to be able to include all whom we see even partially as people on that side of the line (yes this seems to be giving the benefit of the doubt ad I should probably go and read Midgley again, but that aside...).

This is my extrapolations form Frankfurt's work rather than an application of Frankfurt, due to his lack of interest in morality. I must agree that unless we can find some manner similar to what I am putting forward her of producing a morality I do not think it is a concept that ought to carry authority (having not found what I am looking for yet I don't know whether that also ought not to carry authority or not, but we shall see).

michael said...

Nyrhtak's post was not up when I replied, but brings up a point I have neglected: While Kant sees the person as rational and this rationality as being in effect a 'linking in' with the forms, neither I nor Frankfurt agree with this basis, and rather feel that rationality is a tool used to fulfill or decide between or just in general deal with our desires. The desires themselves need not be in any way rational. But morality is reasoned insofar as it is a system built on the underlying structure that is personhood in society (society used loosely - the individual is a duality still)

So a further clarification that needs to be made is that while a person need not be rational, but only capable of moral decisions (e.g. I want to do this but ought to do that. I claimed 'built earlier, meaning that there are two desires, and then I have a desire concerning my relation to those desires; there is a structure). This process still need not be rational.

Pete said...

Firstly. Martin, I'm not sure on that point either but I was taking Kant to think that we would all reach the same conclusion, I drew this conclusion more from his personal preferences rather than his work though. So you could well be correct I just don't know.

Nyrhtak....you're gunna luv this:
do you really want to divide men into a rational box and women into an emotional one? If so who should have rocks thrown at them now?
And you basically do have a good point about emotions and rationality both affecting the agents decisions. This type of ethical reasoning can be seen at least as far back as Spinoza but has also more recently been advocated by theorists such as Damasio with his book 'Descartes Error' and our very own Lea (I have a copy of her masters thesis if you'd like a read). The problem you have in this department however is that you are still using the rationality/emotion dichotomy to analyse the situation. You need to scrap that and reword your account so as not to refer to rationality and emotions as though they were two separate and distinct things.

Ming, I'm still reading and trying to wrap my head around your last posts so I'll get back to them soon....